Cooking Up A Storm

This has got to stop.


Because I’m out of food–thankfully, not in the sense that Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family were (along with most of the other folks in the vicinity of DeSmet, S.D., during “The Long Winter” of 1880-81), reduced to surviving on coarse, unflavored wheat bread ground in a primitive coffee mill, baked using smoking hay twists and gnawed while gazing over frozen fingers at each other’s hollowed out cheeks and sallow skin–but I’ve nearly exhausted my entire repertoire of cold weather meal options, and we’re not even done with January yet.

If this hasn’t been classic casserole/hearty soup weather, I’ll eat it.

Comfort food has regularly been churned out in my kitchen since early December: beef stew, homemade chicken pot pie, stir-fried Hoisin chicken, pork chops, steamed brats, baked enchiladas and ricotta cheese-and-pepperoni stuffed calzones are some of the main dishes that have been quickly consumed at our house.

I’ve whipped up pots of chili, navy bean-and-ham soup, super healthy kale/butternut squash soup, chicken-and-noodles and beef barley stew.

Baked goods? You bet–countless loaves of banana bread have been produced and promptly gobbled, along with cranberry bread, chocolate chip cookies, apple pie, blueberry muffins, cheesecake and chocolate cake (at least three variations of the latter so far).

And the crockpot has been enlisted, too, for crockpot oatmeal and crockpot apple crisp, among other rib-sticking edibles.

But somehow the winter (complete with blizzards and temperatures better suited to polar bears) drones on, even as my list of menu ideas is checked over more than twice. Been there, cooked that. And yet the food continues to disappear nearly as quickly as it’s prepared, and everyone seems to be hungry all over again before the last pan has dried.

There’s a strange hollowness inside, even as we pack in the calories and begin resorting to purchased chocolate chip cookies (“made with real Ghirardelli chocolate!” the label assures) from the reliable Hy-Vee bakery.

Maybe my mistake was assuming we could cook our way out of the winter. Apparently that’s not happening.

Cooking didn’t always come easily to me, but after nearly 25 years of marriage and two decades of parenthood, one figures out how to be resourceful and feed the troops (or goes broke buying takeout). My mother and mother-in-law, each of whom more than knows her way around a kitchen, shared many laughs at my expense in the early months of my cooking adventures. Honestly, my mother may still not wholly believe I can rustle up a complete meal, and one of the most memorable (and unwelcome?) gifts I ever received was from my amused mother-in-law: a sweatshirt depicting a graphic stick-figure woman dialing for pizza delivery and captioned, “See Jane Cook.”

Those were the days, but–trust me on this–my recipe repertoire is now more extensive than most, due to trial and error, time and the gentle guidance of wise women like one of my first Worthington neighbors, the late Marge Soderholm. Marge kindly proffered recipes and secret techniques for her delicious wares (which were often generously shared) such as blueberry cream muffins, zucchini bread and sugar cookies. Mmmmmm.

Despite possessing a plethora of cookbooks, notebooks stuffed with recipes rescued from magazines or newspapers and well-stocked cupboards, the ceaseless rounds of winter weather “events” (and multiple “snow days” with housebound teens inquiring “What’s for lunch?” before 11 a.m.) have deflated my foodie imagination and made me pine for atmospheric conditions better suited to burgers and hot dogs thrown on the grill, or salads tossed together when everyone is more hot than hungry.

Sure, there may be a few additional tricks up my culinary sleeve–I haven’t made barbecues or lasagna in a while, or wild rice soup, and there’s a recipe a friend shared with me for “turkey breast in a crockpot” just last week–but when I run out of meal ideas, that’s it:

Winter is OVER.


3 Responses

  1. I made some tasty Cheesy Chicken Tortilla Soup the other day that was pretty easy. I’ve definitely been in the soup mood. And I did a pot roast in the crock pot that fall apart it was so tender. I even made taco salad…in defiance of the weather!

  2. Marilyn

    Well, I get to cook winter comfort food for 6 months out of the year. I can’t help but notice that you failed to mention a single pressure cooker recipe! Check out Lorna Sass’ Great Vegatarian cooking under Pressure, and her meat containing one – “cooking under pressure “. Some great recipes in there. Highly recommend the corn chowder. You need to make lentil soup with polenta ( generic meal – not L. sass) Her Santa Fe pinto bean soup is killer. Marilyn

  3. brickers

    I think we can all relate, Jane! Bryan and I look at each other every day and ask, “So what are we going to have to eat tomorrow?” And Gretchen — I think you need to share with me that Cheesy Tortilla Soup recipe. Sounds yummy!

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